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Review: Rams (2015)

Two curmudgeonly Icelandic sheep farmers named Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson) haven’t spoken to each other for 40 years, even though they are brothers and neighbours. Gummi, the protagonist, is a mostly reserved and quiet man while Kiddi is a brash, violent alcoholic. When disaster strikes in the form of incurable sheep disease, their breed of livestock—and their entire livelihood—faces extermination. Rams won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes in 2015 and reminded the world that, yes, there is such a thing as Icelandic cinema and it is excellent.

The breathtaking scenery of Iceland showcased in Rams, with its rocky pastures and misty mountains, is a mostly uninhabited land that isolates the characters from the rest of the world. In that cold reality, it is clear that for the tiny community of sheep farmers, which includes Gummi and Kiddi, the sheep are main focus of these hardworking people’s lives. They name each animal, recite poems about them, and hold yearly competitions for the best male specimen in their flocks. In fact, there is far more love and pride that the two brothers hold for their sheep than for each other.

Although Gummi is rarely antagonistic, Kiddi is clearly the black sheep (pun intended) of the family. In their occasional, necessary confrontations, Kiddi yells and drunkenly intimidates while Gummi shies away in a comic mix of awkwardness, stoicism, and ingenuity. To avoid direct communication, Gummi passes notes to his brother by giving them to Kiddi’s clever sheepdog. In one hilarious incident, keeping with Rams’ very distinct sense of humour, Gummi takes his inebriated brother to the hospital via bulldozer. However, this film is also tragic in many ways. The threat of losing their sheep is a truly painful and terrifying prospect for the farmers, who not only face the death of their dear animals coupled with the risk of financial ruin but also lose something far greater: generations of work, pride in their stock, and even their purpose in life. Gummi and Kiddi cope with the losses in different ways but eventually their long estrangement is broken by their shared love for the sheep. The ending finds the brothers lost in the wintery wilderness, disoriented by darkness and howling winds. Kiddi creates a womb-like haven within a snowdrift for his unconscious brother and, while clasping Gummi’s half-frozen body against his own (thus finally returning the favour of rescuing him from exposure to the cold), he weeps and promises him that they will be okay.

Rating: 4 out of 5 lonely Christmas dinners

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